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London Borough of Wandsworth (20 000 775)

Category : Children's care services > Disabled children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 21 Oct 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss B complained about the actions of the Council in respect of her complaint about the delay in finding respite care for her children. This had caused her significant distress and frustration over a prolonged period. The Council had apologised, started overnight respite care and offered a financial remedy. The Council has agreed to increase the payment to £2750.

The complaint

  1. Miss B complained that the London Borough of Wandsworth (the Council), following the completion of stage three of the statutory children’s complaints procedure:
    • failed to offer sufficient compensation for the two and a half year delay in providing respite support for her two children; and
    • has not yet provided any suitable overnight respite care for one of her children.
  2. This has affected her mental health in addition to significant distress and time and trouble in pursuing her complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Miss B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
  2. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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What I found

Child in need

  1. The Children Act 1989 defines a child in need as a child who is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by a local authority.

Statutory children’s complaints procedure

  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Investigating Officer and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers that investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
  2. Stage two of the process should be completed within a maximum of 65 days and a stage three review panel should be convened within 30 days.

Housing allocations- social care queue

  1. The Council’s housing allocations policy states that the social care queue is to provide housing for families with children nominated by social services under joint protocol arrangements within the Council. Examples of nominations include:
    • Parents with children who are subject t a child protection plan where social services considers their present housing represents a significant risk; and
    • A family with a child, that needs to move due to requiring specifically designed or adapted accommodation arising form learning disabilities and/or difficulties.
  2. Applications to the social care queue are placed in either Band A (urgent cases) or Band B and priority between applicants in the same band is determined by their waiting time.

What happened

  1. Miss B has two children (E and F) who have disabilities. Miss B also has a mental health condition. In early 2018 Miss B’s mental health deteriorated, and she was hospitalised for a short period. The Council took E and F into care. In November 2018 after court proceedings, E and F returned to her care. The Council said it would offer the following support:
    • It would put E and F on a child in need plan for 12 months which could be extended.
    • E would be enrolled on a playscheme for the school holidays from October 2018 to October 2019.
    • It would arrange for E and F to receive 12 sessions (one a month) with a Family Link carer (attached to the children with disabilities team) initially for 6 hours during the day but progressing to overnight stays.

Respite sessions

  1. E attended a playscheme during the holidays and the Council did place the children on a child in need plan. But the family link sessions did not proceed as planned. The introductory visit did not take place until June 2019. Following this meeting, link workers started sessions with both children. However, concerns about E’s behaviour grew over the summer and the link worker expressed difficulties in dealing with him. At the end of the summer holidays the playscheme said a 1:1 worker needed to accompany E as he was bullying other children.
  2. The family link sessions with E stopped and after the October half-term E did not attend any more playscheme sessions. In December 2019 the Council decided the link worker was not suitable but it did not find any alternative.
  3. In February 2020 the playscheme agreed to drop the requirement for a 1:1 worker to accompany E, and he was due to attend again. But the playscheme was cancelled due to COVID-19.
  4. In July 2020 the Council found a childminder for E who provided respite for three days a week over five weeks of the summer holidays, starting in early August 2020. The childminder got on very well with E and she began training to become a family link worker with a view to starting overnight respite sessions.
  5. In February 2021 F’s family link worker offered overnight respite for her, but Miss B declined until both children could have it.

Children with disabilities team

  1. The Council referred E to the children with disabilities team on five occasions between September 2018 and April 2020. The team turned down the referral each time saying E did not meet their threshold for services.

Housing

  1. Miss B lives in a three-bedroom first-floor flat. Her landlord is a housing association. She said the stairs down to the garden were dangerous and she could not use them with E and F. She said this exacerbated E’s destructive tendencies as he had no outdoor space in which to let off steam. He also liked to throw things out of the window, and this could be dangerous as he had thrown out a large ride-on toy vehicle belonging to F.
  2. Miss B applied to join the housing register. In January 2020 the Council refused her application on the grounds she was adequately housed. Miss B requested a review and in April 2020 the Council confirmed its decision. In May 2020, following intervention from Miss B’s local councillor, the Council offered to take up the issue of the stairs and the garden with the housing association. It also said it could consider putting Miss B on the housing register as part of the social care quota.
  3. In August 2020 the Council contacted the housing association about the dangerous stairs and lack of access to the garden. The housing association agreed to carry out an assessment. The Council also asked if the housing association could offer Miss B alternative accommodation. But it said its criteria for a move were very strict and lack of access to a garden was not one of them so Miss B would be unlikely to qualify. It carried out an assessment in October 2020 and recommended some repairs.
  4. In the meantime, the Council confirmed it would pursue the social care quota route to the housing register. As Miss B was not a council tenant, she had to complete a new application and provide a number of documents. This took some weeks to complete. On 6 November 2020 the Council referred Miss B to the social care quota and on 13 November 2020 her application was accepted. She is registered in Band B for a four bedroom property, with no internal stairs, either on the ground floor or any floor with a lift and E is to have his own room. She is second in line for a four bedroom property.

Complaint

  1. Miss B had complained to the Council in 2019 about the delay in providing support for her children. The Council responded in April 2019. In July 2020 Miss B contacted us about her complaints: lack of respite care and suitable housing. We referred the complaint back to the Council to consider through the statutory children’s procedure. The Council agreed to consider the complaint at stage two of the process and appointed an Investigating Officer (IO) and an Independent Person (IP) in early September 2020. They interviewed Miss B on 29 September 2020, and she signed a statement of complaint on 2 October 2020. She complained that:
    • The Council had not provided services to E and F as promised in November 2018;
    • The Family Link Service offered to E was inappropriate and unsuccessful.
    • The Council had not provided support with her housing application as promised in May 2020.
  2. The IO interviewed officers in November 2020 and completed their report on 23 December 2020. They partially upheld complaint 1, concluding that the promised family link services had not been provided to the children, but they did not agree that the Council had committed to transferring E to the children with disabilities team. They upheld complaint 2, agreeing that the family link services had not been provided but they did note the considerable efforts of the social worker in trying to achieve this. They did not uphold the complaint about housing because this had now been resolved and Miss B was now in Band B on the housing register.
  3. The Council responded to the stage two report on 15 January 2021. It agreed with findings except it changed the finding of complaint two to partially upheld, as it considered that even though unsuccessful, the Council had made every effort to find a family link worker for E. It committed to continue with the process of approving E’s childminder as a respite carer.
  4. Miss B was dissatisfied with the response and asked to escalate the complaint to a stage three review panel. She asked for some compensation for the impact of the lack of respite care on her.
  5. In January 2021 following a reassessment, E moved to the children with disabilities team.
  6. The stage three panel review was held in March 2021. It partially upheld complaints 1 and 2 and did not uphold complaint 3. It noted the two and a half year delay in providing the right service for the family but also accepted that things had moved on for the family in a positive way. The Panel invited the Council to consider Miss B’s request for compensation.
  7. In April 2021 the Council wrote to Miss B apologising for the delays and offering her £1500.
  8. Miss B complained to us again saying the payment offered was an insult and the Council should also offer them suitable housing.
  9. In response to my enquiries the Council confirmed that overnight respite for both children started this month. It explained it arrived at £1500 as follows: £1000 for two and a half years to put services in place, £250 for Miss B’s time and trouble and £250 for distress.

Analysis

  1. The Council accepts it took far too long to find and arrange suitable respite care for E (nearly three years) and to a lesser extent for F. It notes that staff were diligent and committed to resolving the situation but there were simply too few carers available. I agree the delay was excessive and although I note that individual workers made significant efforts to find carers, the overall failure to do so is still a service failure. This failure caused Miss B and the children significant injustice over several years. It exacerbated her own mental health, meaning she sacrificed opportunities to study for a degree and she experienced significant amounts of distress and frustration.
  2. I also note the Council exceeded the time limits for completing stage two of the investigation process, taking around 22 weeks rather than 13 which added to Miss B’s frustration.
  3. I am pleased the Council has now arranged overnight respite care for E and F. I also welcome its apology for the prolonged delay in achieving this and the offer of £1500. However, I consider an increased payment is appropriate.

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Agreed action

  1. In recognition of the injustice caused to Miss B, I recommend the Council (within one month of the date of my final decision) pays Miss B:
    • £2,500 for the distress and risk of harm to her and the children, resulting from the severe impact on her mental health over an exceptionally long period (two and a half years) plus £250 for her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint: A total of £2,750 instead of the original offer of £1500.

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Final decision

  1. I consider this is a proportionate way of putting right the injustice caused to Miss B, E and F and I have completed my investigation on this basis.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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